“When you make an enemy of the United States, you’d better watch out. Sooner or later we will get you.”
U.S administrator of Iraq
This has been a hard piece to write. It may be a hard one to read.
There are a number of questions that need to be asked these days, and I’ll try to tackle them in the coming series of articles. Today’s question: Why, in the face of the obvious, does Bush enjoy such broad popular support?
The Song of the Popular Mind
We’ve read a lot in the semi-mainstream press about how Bush has been fooling us — about the war, about a lot of things. John Kerry now claims he was led down the garden path regarding the invasion of Iraq, and other voices are starting to be heard, sounding a similar note. We’re even seeing the leaky start of what could be an interesting stream of evidence.
But if the public was fooled, how come? This one blames the government, that one the media, another the intelligence community, still others what’s preached in the churches. Some just credit (if “credit” is the word) the ebb and flow of received ideas, the ever-changing song of the collective popular mind.
Many are kind enough to fault the presumed good nature of the American people, who in the face of just-don’t-know, always give the boss a break, take the Prez at his word. What could be more generous than that, more good-natured?
But no matter what song these commentators sing, it’s a variation on the same sad theme — it’s not the people’s fault, but someone else’s. The devil made them do it.
Hmmm — does this sound familiar, suspicious?
It’s enough to start you thinking. So let’s consider for a moment whether the current state of things — the lies, the belief in lies, the deeds, our support — is not someone else’s fault after all, but falls to the people themselves and not to their “leaders.”
It’s an article of faith on the Left that the people (that is, the People) will always “wake up” whenever they learn the truth; that the people (er, People) are reasonable and need only be well informed to act wisely.
But what if we’ve been awake all along, all of us, and are already as “well informed” as we wish to be?
The implications of that thought are huge (I told you this would be hard to read), but let’s set those aside for later. First let’s examine the assertion itself. Maybe we won’t need to fault the public after all; perhaps, after pausing to reflect, we really can blame our leaders, elected and otherwise.
Fool Me Twice — Please
So let’s begin. From recent polling data we learn that as of recently, 1/3 of Americans think the U.S. Army has already found Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction; that 22% think these (non-existent) weapons were used against our invading, liberating forces; that half of all Americans think Iraqis were among the 9/11 hijackers; and that 2/3 think that war in Iraq was justified, whether or not the weapons that sold it are actually found.
The first three of those statements are so obviously false, they cannot be thought true by any but the isolated and the deceased. For example, if you heard enough news to know that 9/11 occurred, you certainly heard, at some point, what country the perps were from.
So are the American people just stupid (“addled” as one commentator puts it), or is something else going on? Unless you really believe that Americans are less smart than the whole rest of the world — in fact, are less smart than you yourself (such an elitist thought!) — one can’t help but consider the other conclusion, that things are exactly as most people want them, and if the facts are in the way, then goodbye facts.
In other words, one must consider that not only are the press and whistle-blower announcements swimming up the stream of Bushist damage control; they also swim up the stream of what the public, or a good part of it, wants and is determined to believe.
An Experiment You Can Try at Home
Look at it another way — how obvious are Bush’s lies? Do you think real grown-ups are truly deceived by them? Were you fooled by them when you heard them, one by one, come out of his mouth? Do you think John Kerry and other Beltway luminaries were fooled? (If so, what does that say about them?)
Is it possible most folks don’t know that Bush “stretches” (Twain’s word) when he serves up a floating soup of words why we need to bomb those Iraqis, those Iranians, those Syrians, those Koreans, those (insert brown-skinned non-Christian enemy here)?
Do you imagine most people care that the number of innocent dead Afghanis is greater than the number of innocent dead New Yorkers?
If you think they do care, about the truth of any of these things, try this experiment — tell them about it.
Really. Stop people you know and people you don’t, and tell them. Expose them to the facts, just the basics — and if you like, expose them to their Christian principles as well, the simple stuff, like “what you do to the least” and so on. Then note the responses.
Sample the public mind of your own town and you are likely to confirm the polls, to learn that a few do care (they already know you’re right); more disbelieve you, dispute you, become angry with you; and even more don’t want to hear what you say, will avoid you.
And if you’re afraid to try the experiment for fear of the reaction, that’s information as well.
What Else Can We Ignore?
Now that you see where this is going, let’s take it further. To what else do Mr. and Ms. America seem to turn a blind eye?
How can most people not know we’re torturing suspected enemies in hidden holes, or farming out torture to other lovers of freedom in the Coalition of the Willing (for example, Pakistan)? The popular TV series “24” suggested as much, several times and vividly, with nary a peep across America.
More — don’t you think most people know that the Constitution is being massively violated, with (insert brown-skinned non-Christian enemy here) as victim? Of course they do, in the same way they know that petty thieves are routinely raped in prison (evidence? those “here-comes-Bubba” jokes we all make); and that blacks are regularly beaten in police stations and on the street. (The last is so not-news it’s not even reported, unless the tape means good ratings on TV.)
Still more — do you imagine most people don’t understand that the Screaming Right (Rush and Reed, Savage and Sean) is a brutal and vicious crew? Of course they do. Even his supporters know Rush is vicious — his meanness is his virtue. (Don’t believe me? Imagine his imitators attempting to compete on niceness.)
Finally — do you imagine that punishing “Christian” America fails to see Ashcroft as one of their own, an iconic Dimsdale figure from deep in the national psyche? Can Ashcroft and his intent be so obvious to us and not to everyone else? Or is punishing “Christianity,” the problem for us, actually the virtue for his fans and silent supporters?
Torture, the violated Constitution, the brutality of the Right, punishing justice — the list goes on and on. You can add to it yourself. Just ask, what else is just too obvious to ignore? See, that wasn’t so hard. You found three more already. (Note the theme, by the way — torture, punishment, violation; we’ll deal with that later.)
The Bad News Is, the People Aren’t Stupid
So what does all this mean? Either Americans are really, really dumb and couldn’t see the obvious if you painted it on the set of America’s Most Wanted, or things are exactly how most Americans want them to be, thank you very much.
And if the second, how familiar. The murder of blacks in the South occurred with the knowledge and silent complicity of whole towns, whole states. Many were occasions for picnics. If the polls are true, the deaths in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and the promised killings to come, occur with the assent of most of the nation (and on this Fourth of July, were occasions for picnics).
Not through your assent, of course; but the assent of the many who shout you down or turn away in “disbelief.”
What does all this mean? That your unspoken fears may be correct. That the nation may really be peopled with Rushes and Reeds, with Savage Seans, with Cheneys and Lotts after all, more than enough of them to form the standing majority we’ve watched all our lives, enough to fuel that madness the nation is heir to — those Puritan hate-and-torture frenzies many take part in, and many more passively enjoy.
Was McCarthy an aberration? Was Nixon and his “Silent Majority,” those open and closeted bigots who couldn’t wait to end their own long national nightmare (the Sixties)? The Silent Majority put Nixon in office, twice.
Was Reagan an aberration, with his attacks on the poor, his enthronement of greed made good, greed made god? They called themselves the “Moral” Majority that time round and put him in office twice as well.
And did any American, friend or foe, really believe that a gleeful Texas executioner was in fact a “compassionate conservative?” You’d have to have been a real dimbo to buy that one. The second 2000 debate showed his awful eagerness (and perhaps ours as well).
What if all this misdirectional language (Silent Majority; Moral Majority; Morning in America; I’m a uniter, not a divider; I am not a crook; Saddam can kill us with nukes), all these lies, are not handed us to fool us? What if they’re offered instead as ground cover, a wink-wink story that the hard-minded can hide behind as they go about the business of punishment and revenge — that sordid Jonathan Edwards war on the generous humanist spirit?
Do we dare think that thought?
Judge Judy Tells All
Whatever the truth about who’s the majority, this whole drama really is about the Culture War, and the culture of the majority can be a beast. It’s the classic sado-masochistic Christianity of Erich Fromm’s seminal work, Escape From Freedom, his still-modern explanation of what the Germans saw in Hitler, and liked so much.
Why don’t Americans demand more justice from police? Maybe they just don’t want to.
Maybe they really do want to punish and pick clean society’s easy targets, the brown, the poor and the underprivileged, whether criminal or otherwise. The cops do it now, as do predatory lenders. Soon the tax code will take up the task as well, all with the assent of the “moral” majority.
Need more evidence of this public hard-mindedness? Look at the broad popularity of those punishing reality shows — the avenging angel cop busts, the afternoon courtroom morality plays, the people-are-stupid talk shows like Springer and his friends.
First look at the shows themselves; how brutal, how Puritan. Then look at those who watch them. What secret glee. What proof that the punishment we mete is deeply deserved.
And who is that viewer? Don’t kid yourself — it’s not the Barroom Betty, the Backwoods Sam, the Truckstop Jim of cliched imagination. These shows are popular.
The viewer is my neighbor and yours. It’s the man down the street with the law degree and the job at Motorola, the one who hates affirmative action because, frankly, he just wants more for himself. It’s the relative with the high-paying union job and a hatred of immigrants stealing his hard-earned (Left-won) wages. It’s the rebellious party-hearty college kid who thinks everyone (but him) gets away with way too much.
Judge Judy and her ilk say a lot about us — about our greed, our hate, our fear, our need to punish. Our “leaders” seem to pander to that, but perhaps they don’t guide us at all, but follow along. Perhaps we lead them, order from the menu, and let them deliver. Did the hanging Southern posse ride at night because the rest of the town secretly (ineffectively) said No, or secretly (complicitly) said Yes?
One could easily believe the latter. If the nation as a whole really thought it vile to demonize the poor as “welfare queens,” Reagan would never have rounded first base, much less made it to the White House.
If the nation as a whole really objected to mass murder in Texas prisons, we’d have thrown Bush out with the bathwater he rode in on.
Denial is Not a River, It’s a State
We like to think the American people are in denial (for a reason no one can specify); but it perhaps it’s more respectful to give them credit for knowing what they want and choosing it. These are adults, after all, same as the rest of us.
Perhaps it’s we who are in denial, we who refuse to admit the obvious. Perhaps, just maybe, what I’m saying is too painful even to examine, much less, if necessary, admit. Trust me, this is painful for me as well. Like many, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to have faith in the majority. I still may succeed, but alas, the election approaches.
I told you this would be tough to read. I could be wrong in everything I’m saying (I would love to be wrong in every word of this).
But if you think this reasoning is false, please prove it. Go back to that experiment above and confront those people with the facts. Stop them on street corners (literally), ask them at work. Then honestly confront your understanding of the results, whatever they are.
As we often tell others, you can’t get out of this state, this condition, by denying the truth. It’s time to look at those awkward poll results with respect for the answers.
Vote for the Public of Your Choice
I’ve written in an earlier article that the 2004 election will be a referendum, not on the candidates, but on the voters, on the American people. After watching the seemingly inexplicable poll results of the last few weeks, I believe this even more strongly.
The current round of Republicans has made the obvious blatant. The ground cover, the plausible-sounding explanation, has eroded laughably; we’ve blown right past plausible headed toward childish and desperate.
Even a fool must understand the choices by now. Do we torture the non-white races or don’t we? Do we imprison dissent or don’t we? Do we bomb Moslems or don’t we? Do we rake to our Reaganesque selves the goods of the earth, or don’t we?
Do we fight with the whole rest of the world?
As a people, a nation, who are we?
The current crew has made these questions more explicit than any in a lifetime. It’s an excellent time to take a vote. If Bush is indeed elected in 2004, the people will truly have spoken.
And if they do, what a brutal, damning thing they will have said.
More in a bit. We are not done with this. And may more questions need asking. But next time, something more encouraging. The latest polls may reveal where we are; but where are we going?
GAIUS PUBLIUS is a writer living in the United States. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.